- By Darren Thompson
SAINT PAUL, Minn. — Ramsey County Circuit Court Judge Leonardo Castro accepted an agreement between the State of Minnesota and Mike Forcia, represented by Attorney Jack Rice, for the toppling of the Columbus statue at the Minnesota State Capitol grounds on June 10, 2020. Judge Castro agreed to a “Stay of Imposition” where Forcia would serve 100 hours of community service through teaching and education and the state would drop the felony charge of Criminal Damage to Property - 1st Degree - Value Reduced Over $1000 in a year.
The statue’s toppling happened during protests that spread across America in the aftermath of the uproar over the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
“We cannot ignore that the act in this case was an act of civil disobedience,” Ramsey County District Attorney Sarah Cory said at Monday’s sentencing hearing. “Punishment would not further the goals of uniting communities or achieving justice in these circumstances.”
“Accountability in this case will be service to the community,” Cory recommended to Judge Castro.
“This is exactly what I wanted, from day one,” Forcia said to Native News Online. “They must be educated on the ugly birth of the country.”
The case focused on restorative justice and involved a series of talking circles that were organized and hosted virtually by the State and attorneys for Mike Forcia. The conversations included the voices of law enforcement, religious organizations, educators, senior members of political parties, grassroots organizers, Native leaders, and the media. All had the opportunity to participate and voice their concerns on the toppling of the Columbus statue and agreed that jail time would be detrimental in this case for a variety of reasons.
The toppling of the statue made national headlines and sparked cities across the United States to remove symbols of oppression and racism in public spaces, including statues of Christopher Columbus and Confederate monuments in cities such as Baltimore, Chicago, Richmond, Sacramento, Columbus and more.
“Mike’s case and this resolution is not just about restorative justice, but about transformative justice,” said Defense Attorney Jack Rice to Native News Online. “There are many perspectives, some who agree and some who disagree, and their voices all matter. What we have been advocating for is to ensure that what will grow out of this is that those voices will be heard.”
Native News Online reported on August 13 that the Ramsey County District Attorney’s Office filed charges against Mike Forcia with Criminal Damage to Property - 1st Degree - Value Reduced Over $1000 for the toppling of the Christopher Columbus statue on June 10 at the Minnesota State Capitol Grounds.
According to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the investigation led to a 13,000-page file identifying Mike Forcia as the primary organizer, leader, and executor of the incident. Forcia is an enrolled citizen of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and lifetime activist for Indigenous rights and people. Although Forcia is seen cheering as the statue was toppled, there is no footage of him pulling the statue down.
After the statue fell to the ground, Forcia acknowledged that he would likely be held accountable for the statue being pulled down.
Criminal damage to property in the first degree is a felony in the State of Minnesota punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or fines reaching up to $10,000.
“As the prosecutor, I acknowledge that the violence, exploitation, and forced assimilation that has been inflicted upon Native people has been perpetuated from colonial times into modern times,” said Ramsey County District Attorney Sarah Cory in a statement to the public. “And the trauma resulting from it is still present. The impact of those harms is largely unrecognized and unknown to the dominant culture.”
“I also recognized that the legal process, of which I am a part of, is reflective of the perspectives of the dominant culture,” Attorney Cory continued.
Although the restorative process may seem unique and innovative in the criminal justice system, it definitely isn’t among Native people and communities—a trait acknowledged by Judge Castro.
“I want to commend everyone in this matter,” Judge Castro stated at the conclusion of the sentencing hearing. “It is a step towards healing that includes the voices of many people.”
"I look forward to serving the community," Forcia said to Judge Castro.
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